Richard Walmsley meets the Wolfgirl and discovers the Dax-sound
If you saw the film 'Company Of Wolves' and noticed, in the last story, a 'Wolfgirl' with exceptionally long golden hair, it was probably Danielle Dax. Danielle is what you could call a dilletante, who in addition to playing small roles in film, has also done dance shows, is a painter and has been singing and writing music – both with bands and as a solo artist – for about five years.
She began singing and writing with The Lemon Kittens back in 1980, finally releasing her first solo project, an LP entitled Jesus Egg That Wept in 1982. More recently she has just released an EP – on Falcon Records Fizzine Human Bomb – which has received an encouraging amount of airplay. Encouraging not only to Ms Dax, but also to home recordists since she works almost entirely from her laboratory-like home studio.
Her first exposure to people actually making music came about when she met Karl Blake of The Lemon Kittens whose bedroom set-up was based around an Akai 4000DS. Inspired by the possibilities of working from home she has since then always worked in this manner, although varying it slightly to take in the best of both worlds.
"At the mixing stage I take the stuff into cheap 8 or 16 track studios. When I was working on the first album I used the TEAC A3340 4-track. Because the inputs were straight into the front I didn't worry about mixing. Then I just took the tapes into a cheap 8-track and transferred them and then mixed them adding a few things like reverb and ADT."
Not one for using large amounts of effects, Danielle prefers to use studios that are well equipped with the basics, and which work properly. She basically tries to get as close to the final sound as possible before venturing out of her own studio. The main thing that has to be watched when working like this is to make sure that the sound quality doesn't suffer when transferring signals from one tape to another, the point of main attention being the treble end which often needs to be boosted a little. However, apart from adding a few instrumental parts the main function of using a professional studio is to improve the generally dynamic of the song.
"I put my vocals through an HH amp which enables me to put a bit of reverb on it, but I also quite like the sound, and now that I've got the Tascam 38 8-track, I often double track my vocals here. On the next thing I do I might record the vocals in a studio, but it will be an experiment because I do like the sound of the room here."
Surprisingly, the drum parts aren't recorded until they go into the studio.
"I find it okay to work with just a click track because I usually know what's going to go on later in the track and I have most of the ideas in my head, even if other people play them. When we go into the real studios we know what we've got to do, so we don't have to spend much time in there. That's the whole point of having all this stuff here. If we spent as much time in the studio as we do here Varispeeding peculiar instruments and things it would be totally impractical."
And speaking of peculiar instruments, Danielle has some real gems among her collection, ranging from ancient string synthesisers, and EMS Hi-Fi guitar synthesiser, to sitars, Tablas and an Electro Saz, an electrified lute-like instrument from Turkey that sounds like a cross between a lute, a sitar and an electric guitar. She is currently searching high and low for a Danelectra Sitar guitar (contact us at the magazine if you are trying to get rid of one).
When Danielle and her fellow musicians go into studios they do sometimes take advantage of modern techniques such as sampling, however necessity has proved to be the mother of invention for Danielle.
"One of the tracks on the single has had quite a lot of airplay which is the first time for me. Yummer Yummer Man has been played quite a lot on evening radio, and Bad Miss M has been played quite a lot in the day. The average cost per track was about £200. It's ridiculous, but it's because necessity makes you think more laterally. If you face certain problems, which in our case are financial, you tend to think around them, and that sometimes brings about more interesting approaches to doing things. For instance, on Jesus Egg That Wept, one of the drum tracks was done by hitting a saucepan full of water that was touching a beer glass full of water, being put through a Memory Man, to make a sound like a cross between a drum and a rubber band.
"On Fizzing Human Bomb we used a section from an old Disco record for the drum track. It was a very extended Disco mix from the early Seventies that was slowed down quite a lot, so it was just about long enough, and we also added other drums over it.
Such unorthodox ideas could quite easily be marred by poor sound quality, but this all adds to the effect quite often.
"You can lose certain sound quality when you do things like that, but I sometimes prefer things to suffer in sound quality and have them have a character of their own. When we use loops off old Blues records you tend to get that, but I quite like that boomy, mushy sound."
Tape loops, a technique often associated with some of the more obscure areas of the independent or avant garde scene, and definitely not the most revolutionary idea at present, nevertheless are a source of creativity for Danielle.
"There are various effects you can get. We did a track where we sampled various bits of percussion at different speeds and then just chopped up the tape at random and put it back together with a stereo spread on them so that it was jumping between the speakers. But if you want a loop that has more than one instrument on it you have to be quite accurate so you don't cut off guitar notes, etc."
Home taping is a great way of working, but ultimately if you want to actually make a record, you are going to have to face problems that take you outside your studio environment and which there will be little control over, such as when you take your tape to be pressed. In these situations independent artists can often get a raw deal if they don't watch out.
"When you have problems with the pressing company you have to hassle them. Then they'll probably send you some pressings which will be quite good, but you can't just leave it there otherwise they'll just get lazy again. Independent releases tend to get chucked to the bottom of the pile so you have to be very careful."
Basically, anyone trying to make records from home has to be pretty knowledgeable in a variety of fields, from knowing the music business to learning about musical techniques. Danielle has got where she is by knowing what she has to, but no more. In the final analysis it's the music and the creativity involved that she relies on most.
"I make it a policy only to learn what I need to know at a particular time. I don't want to become too obsessed with the technical side, because if you spend too much time being analytical the intuitive side loses out."
Feature by Richard Walmsley
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